One week before everyone packs up and heads south to Belmont, the New York Racing Association's reorganization holds a meeting in Saratoga. YNN's Matt Hunter was at Wednesday morning's meeting and has a full report.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- At a regularly scheduled board of directors meeting Wednesday morning, New York Racing Association executives and board members discussed the current state of affairs and what lies ahead for the organization that runs the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks.
"My interpretation is we're still not hitting the mark exactly as we should," said Cornell University President Dr. David Skorton, the board’s chairman since last October.
Much of the meeting's focus geared toward the organization's finances, which have proved a challenge in recent years.
Through the first six months of 2013, NYRA reports an operating loss of $10.3 million, double the figure from a year ago, with drops in attendance and on-track handle largely to blame.
While that number flips to an $8.2 million gain once $54.3 million in video lottery terminal revenue is factored in and non-operational expenses are taken out, stakeholders stress the importance of getting on more solid footing.
"We have to get to zero for a bottom line, we have to get to break-even for a bottom line,” Skorton said. "That's going to be some judicious combination of revenue enhancement and expenditure control."
"The first thing we have to do is look at the expenses we can control and the ones we can't,” NYRA President and CEO Christopher Kay said. “Then we're going to identify the expenses we can control and address them."
Since July, Kay has been the person in charge of righting that ship. It's his belief that improving the fan experience through efforts like upgrading NYRA's online and phone wagering platform and installing new tote machines will have a direct impact on the bottom line.
"The more you're enjoying yourself, the more likely you are to spend more money," Kay said.
According to Kay, money spent on group sales, concessions and merchandise is up 18 percent this summer at Saratoga.
Whether that kind of success can be mirrored at the downstate tracks will have a large impact on the organization's future.
"I Are we going to have a bigger Saratoga? Are all three tracks going to survive? That's going to come out of the results of analyzing this data," Skorton said following the meeting.
"When you look at our racing compared to anywhere else in the country, we have the best,” Kay said. “We're going to work harder to get even more of that share, if you will, of the national handle."
Executives and board members also pointed to several success stories, not limited to improvements made on the backstretch in both the barns and dormitories.
Also, according to board member Anthony Bonomo, great strides have been made in equine safety. At Belmont, they had their lowest level of fatal breakdowns since 2005. Despite having four breakdowns so far at Saratoga this summer, Bonomo says they're still well below the national average.